Obituary: Rue McClanahan / Played Blanche on 'Golden Girls'

Feb. 21, 1934 - June 3, 2010

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Rue McClanahan, who played the aging Southern belle Blanche Devereaux in the hit NBC comedy series "The Golden Girls," died Thursday at age 76. Reports said she died after suffering a stroke at a New York City hospital.

The actress won an Emmy in 1987 for her role in "The Golden Girls," in which she co-starred with Bea Arthur, Betty White and Estelle Getty. Ms. McClanahan's Blanche was an oversexed siren and proto-cougar who seduced men of all ages with her Southern charm. The show ran from 1985 to 1992 and continues to air in syndication.

Ms. White is now the only surviving Golden Girl. Arthur died in 2009, at 86, and Getty died in 2008, at 84.

Ms. McClanahan co-starred alongside Arthur in the CBS sitcom "Maude," from 1972 to 1978 and also had a recurring role in NBC's "Mama's Family" during the early '80s.

When she wasn't working in television, Ms. McClanahan often performed on stage, including theatrical stints on Broadway, off Broadway and in Southern California. She performed in Pittsburgh in 1999 in the Civic Light Opera production of "Bye Bye Birdie."

The actress won a scholarship to study at the Pasadena Playhouse early in her career. In her autobiography "My First Five Husbands ... and the Ones Who Got Away," Ms. McClanahan wrote that in her third year at the playhouse, she played the role of a more famous Blanche -- Blanche DuBois -- in a production of Tennessee Williams' "A Streetcar Named Desire." She described the part as "a plum role I always wanted to tackle."

Ms. McClanahan later moved to New York, where she studied with Uta Hagen and Harold Clurman. In 1968, she performed in the Broadway production of Murray Schisgal's "Jimmy Shine," which starred Dustin Hoffman. The actress won an Obie in 1970 for her performance in the off-Broadway production of "Who's Happy Now."

Also in 1970, she landed a role on the soap opera "Another World."

Soon, Hollywood beckoned and the actress expanded her career in television. But she would return to the stage in between her screen jobs.

Ms. McClanahan had a supporting role in a critically acclaimed revival of Thornton Wilder's "The Skin of Our Teeth" at the Old Globe in San Diego. The production was taped and later aired on PBS in 1983.

After "The Golden Girls," Ms. McClanahan performed twice on Broadway -- in the Roundabout's 2001 revival of "The Women," and in the hit musical "Wicked," in which she stepped into the role of Madame Morrible in 2005.

Eddi-Rue McClanahan was born on Feb. 21, 1934, in Healdton, Okla., and studied German and theater at the University of Tulsa.

Her first job was at the Erie Playhouse in Erie, Pa.

The actress was a breast cancer survivor and had undergone heart bypass surgery in 2009.

Married six times, Ms. McClanahan revealed in her 2007 memoir that the insatiable appetites of her "Golden Girls" character weren't a terrible stretch for her.

"People always ask if I'm really like Blanche," Ms. McClanahan wrote, "and I say, 'Well, consider the facts: Blanche was a glamorous, oversexed, self-involved, man-crazy Southern belle from Atlanta -- and I'm not from Atlanta."

She also wrote: "I learned a lot from Blanche about optimism and joie de vivre, feeling confident about what you have to offer the world, and the ability to bounce back from life's momentary failures. Blanche Devereaux is a masterful rebounder, never down for the count, always back up to fight again, to look again on the bright side. I loved that about her."

Bloomberg News contributed.


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